Sheffield United: The story of The Blades' last win over Manchester United, told by three of those who took part
It started with a conversation about unkempt facial hair and ended with an alcohol fuelled procession through the liveliest parts of town.
Nearly three decades might have passed since they last beat Manchester United. Plenty of pints were sunk during its immediate aftermath. But Jamie Hoyland can still remember, with almost forensic accuracy, every single detail of Sheffield United's FA Cup victory over the visitors from Old Trafford.
"The draw in those days was done on a Monday evening," he says, casting his mind back over 26 years. "A few of us were listening and Alan Cork was there. He'd promised to keep growing a beard so long as we were still in the competition. When we got them, the first thing he came out with was 'Great, now I can probably shave this bloody thing off.'"
The characters might have changed and the stage is also different. But 26 years on, as they prepare to face their namesakes in Premier League competition, the story of 14 February 1993 should remain relevant to Chris Wilder's squad. It reveals how an unfancied team paired against illustrious opponents can, with plenty of industry and a little tactical acumen, defy both conventional footballing wisdom and the bookmakers odds. Hoyland, who scored the first of United's two goals following Ryan Giggs' opener, admits Steve Bruce's late penalty miss was a stroke of good fortune. But another starter that afternoon, defender Tom Cowan, insists his colleagues had earned that slice of luck as he picks up the tale.
"Sir Alex Ferguson, the great Manchester United manager, always liked us," the Scot, now a firefighter in South Yorkshire, points out. "Because we were always a really together group. I think he saw comparisons between his side, who were always known for fighting right until the end, and ourselves in that regard. They were always coming at you, no matter what the situation was. We might not have had their ability, well not all of us, but we had that same attitude."
Like his friend and protégé Wilder, Dave Bassett was a recognised master of the team building art. Technically gifted players like Brian Deane and Franz Carr, who confused Ferguson's men by constantly swapping flanks throughout the fifth round contest, were provided with a platform to excel by fearless performers such as Brian Gayle and Charlie Hartfield. Another, Hoyland's fellow midfielder Ian Bryson, is struck by the similarities between Bassett's squad and the one Wilder has led to fifth in the table.
"We had a lot of decent players," Bryson, who was involved in the build-up to Glyn Hodges' winner, says. "We had a way of playing which was different to how United go about things now. But there was a plan and we knocked it about in the final third. Lads like Deano never got the credit, for how good he was with his feet, because of how strong he was in the air."
"I love what Chris is doing with his group now," Bryson continues. "The way they set up, the shape and emphasis on getting the lads at the back to attack, I honestly believe it's improved football in general."
Although they are above Ole Gunnar Solskjær's men in the rankings, if Wilder's men are to extend their unbeaten run to six games they must display the same sense of purpose as Hoyland and his cohorts.
"When the referee blew his whistle, that was the only time I thought we'd really done it," he says, describing the build-up to Bruce's fluffed spot-kick. "I can still see Paul Ince being brought down for that pen, Wardy (Mitch Ward) I think it was, and thinking 'there's not long left. We'll be heading for a replay.' Even when Brucey hit the post, we knew we had to stay switched on. They didn't have Eric Cantona available because he'd been called-up by France but, even though that was a boost for us, they still had lads like Giggs, Lee Sharpe and Brian McClair at their disposal."
"Like Tommy, I know Fergie was always very complimentary about us," Hoyland adds. "Harry (Bassett) always told us that. Fergie liked us because we were workers and maybe other than Deano, not many higher up the division would have probably come in the sign us back then. But we were still all better than a lot of people gave us credit for and we were a team in the true sense of the word."
Cowan, echoing that sentiment, acknowledges the role Bramall Lane's crowd also played in helping dash Ferguson's double hopes. Manchester United would go on to be crowned champions by a 10 point margin while United, after progressing past Blackburn Rovers in the next round, lost to neighbours Sheffield Wednesday in the semi-finals.
"The ground was absolutely rocking," he says. "The whole place was bouncing and, on top of the spirit we had, that gave us such an edge. The togetherness we had was something else. I only realised how good the team spirit we had was when I left and went elsewhere. If we went for a night, everyone was up for it. Sat in that dressing room, being at a club like United, I just thought it would last forever."
The atmosphere inside United's stadium that day has also left an indelible impression on Bryson, now an ambassador for another of his former clubs, Preston North End.
"It was live on television and that didn't happen much back then. So it was a really special moment and it was, as far as I can recall, the first time personally I'd been involved in a win over one of the really big boys as it were. I'd come down from Kilmarnock and we'd faced Rangers and Celtic but never been able to get one over on them. So it was always going to be a result I'd never forget."
Hoyland, who was recently appointed Everton's lead first team scout, confesses the celebrations were not confined to the dressing room or the stands.
"Yes, we went out. But I'm not sure where. Because it was an afternoon kick-off so we were on it pretty early. I'm sure we stopped off in plenty of places though. Oh, and Corky? He didn’t take part in the game but he was glad he had to keep the beard.”
14 February 1993: Sheffield United 2-1 Manchester United
Sheffield United: Kelly; Ward, Cowan, Hoyland, Gayle, Beesley, Carr (Littlejohn, 88), Hartfield, Bryson, Deane, Hodges. Substitute not used: Bradshaw.
Manchester United: Schmeichel; Parker, Irwin, Bruce, Sharpe, Pallister, Kanchelskis, Ince, McClair, Hughes, Giggs. Substitutes not used: Carey, Phelan.
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).
Goals: Giggs, Hoyland, Hodges.